Updated: Jul 15
When we were planning our April Zion/Bryce trip with our friends Chad and Shannon, we learned that Bryce Canyon sits quite a bit higher in elevation than Zion, so we'd planned on the weather being colder at Bryce and running into snow on the hiking trails.
For context, Zion National Park sits at about 4,000 feet above sea level and climbs up to 6,500 feet, whereas Bryce Canyon ranges from 9,000 down to 7,000 feet in elevation. That may not seem like a huge variance, but it can mean the difference of snow vs. rain during a storm, and the amount of snow remaining on trails in the spring.
We also knew of several trail closures in Bryce ahead of time, so we had to choose our hiking routes accordingly. This would also be our first time hiking with microspikes, as we don't do much "winter hiking." Unsure whether we'd actually need them, we all four packed them with us, regardless, figuring if we needed them, we'd have them, and they aren't too difficult or inconvenient to carry in our packs. In the end, I think we all agreed we were glad we had them.
Bryce Canyon National Park – named after Ebenezer Bryce, a man who aided in the settlement of the area – is known for its unending hoodoo landscapes made up of limestone, siltstone, dolomite, and mudstone. Each of these rock types erode at different rates, which results in the varying, undulating shapes of the hoodoos. Hoodoos exist throughout the world, but Bryce Canyon National Park is home to the largest concentration of hoodoos found anywhere on Earth, and over 2 million people visit the park every year.
What the heck is a "hoodoo"?
We got our first taste of hoodoos in Red Canyon along UT State Hwy. 12 as we approached the national park, along with a couple of awesome tunnels.
Day 1 in Bryce Canyon National Park
On our first "day" in Bryce Canyon National Park, it was really flippin' cold. Despite it being the middle of April, the nip in the air made it feel like the middle of December in Wisconsin. So rather than dive immediately into hiking, we did a preliminary "drive-through" tour of various canyon lookout points to survey the land and whet our appetites for the days to follow.
This time of year, the park tends to be less crowded, so we were fortunate to be able to find parking in the various lots at each of the overlooks, so we didn't end up having to use the park's shuttle bus.
Did I mention it was cold? I'm not even certain this was Shannon I posed with at Bryce Point.
Miles and miles of hoodoos, rock pillars left by water and frost erosion, that began forming over 100 million years ago.
And still plenty of snow left.
This was our final stop on the overlook tour of Bryce Canyon: Natural Bridge. Due to snow, we could travel no farther on the road through Bryce, as it was closed beyond this point.
After we felt sufficiently frozen and full of hoodoos, pinnacles, and spires, we headed back to our "basecamp" in small-town, rural Panguitch, UT – Panguitch means water or fish in the Paiute language – to decide on dinner plans and map out hiking endeavors for Day 2 in Bryce Canyon.
Now that we had a better "in-person" feel for the snow, terrain, and temperatures for hiking in Bryce Canyon, we decided that our first hike would be a 4.5-mile route we pieced together, avoiding various trail closures. This route put us starting out hiking down from the rim roughly 320 feet into the Bryce Canyon Amphitheater in less than a mile to Queen's Garden and continuing on to Peek-a-Boo Canyon, ending up at 8300 ft. at Bryce Point. With this point-to-point route, it made the most sense for us to park and ride the Bryce shuttle tomorrow.
Day 2 in Bryce Canyon National Park
The following morning, we kicked off Day 2 in Bryce Canyon with a quick breakfast, donned layers for chilly temps, and headed out with our day-packs for the roughly 30-minute drive from Panguitch to Bryce Canyon National Park. Once reaching the park entrance and flashing our annual pass like a boss, we quickly found a parking spot and walked over to a shuttle bus stop nearby that would transport us to Sunrise Point, the trailhead where we'd start down to Queen's Garden.
Because several of the key trails in Bryce were closed due to snow and/or rockslides, that meant higher volumes of people would be concentrated on the trails that were open. The initial descent to Queen's Garden brought plenty of foot traffic up and down the compacted, pale yellow crushed rock path, which was flanked by a steep drop-off on one side.
At one point, I spotted a root firmly embedded in the trail, but yet jutting out – primed to trip anyone. On reflex, I announced, "Trip knob!" to my fellow hiking group following behind me, not giving it another thought, much less expecting anyone else to pay any attention to such a random announcement. But to my surprise, a woman in another hiking group nearby asked me, "What did you call that?" I laughed, a tiny bit embarrassed, and briefly told her what it meant.
The full story is this: Early on in our hiking days, I coined the term, "trip knob." Not as any kind of "universal" hiking term, but just something that my husband and I adopted long ago.
Since I am usually a fast hiker, I am typically hiking ahead of most people with us on the trail, including my husband, so I'm often in a position to spot obstacles before others do, whether it's a protruding tree root or small boulder embedded in the trail ("trip knob!"), a low branch sticking out at head or face height ("low clearance!"), or a wobbly stepping stone across a water crossing, I'm always on the lookout. And whoever in our group is leading extends the same courtesy, keeping an eye out for things on the trail that could cause one to trip (or get smacked in the head). Thus, when something is spotted embedded in the trail, we announce, "Trip knob!," as a heads-up to the hiker or hikers behind us.
I did not go into that level of detail with this woman on the trail to Queen's Garden, but she got the gist and nodded, smiled and said, "Yeah. I like that!" So, who knows. Maybe it will catch on. 😉
Our first "stop" on the Rim Trail before descending down to Queen's Garden was a view of "Thor's Hammer," which is one of the most well-known hoodoos in the park.
Overlooking the various trails from the rim.
The Queen's Garden.
Lots of little slot canyons, tunnels, and peek-a-boo holes along this hike.
The crowds died down substantially after we moved past Queen's Garden, which was a welcomed bonus.
Since the Navajo Loop Trail was closed, we took a short connector segment to Peek-a-Boo Loop Trail and then made a somewhat arbitrary decision as to which side of the loop trail we wanted to take up the remainder of the way to Bryce Point. We veered left and continued climbing.
This section of Peek-a-Boo Trail had 3 log benches. And I was in luck: I had 3 monkeys along with me on this hike.
The trail wound around, through, and amongst the larger-than-life spires.
Near the intersection where we diverted from Peek-a-Boo Loop Trail and joined the Rim Trail that would lead us to our final ascent up to Bryce Point, we stopped along the trail to have quick snacks. We peered up at the nearby steep trail ahead of us, covered in slippery snow with substantial muddy sections. A small group of descending hikers approached us. We asked them about the trail condition ahead of us. They confirmed it was snowy and slippery.
I announced to our group that I was going to put on my microspikes. Even if it turned out the microspikes were overkill and we didn't actually need them to finish the hike, I personally felt like this was good terrain to test them out. At that point, all of us ended up putting on our microspikes before we continued.
If not covered in snow, this trail was covered in thick, wet, slippery, sloppy mud. But we continued climbing. It turns out that microspikes can be equally useful for snowy and muddy terrain. In no time at all, we all agreed we were glad we had them on our shoes for this section of the trail. With the added "traction" provided by the spikes, we didn't have to expend quite as much energy to make forward progress, and I generally felt more confident and secure on the slippery terrain.
I thought this little keyhole in the hoodoos looked similar to the shape of Lake Tahoe.
Getting closer to the rim.
But still a fair amount of climbing through mud and snow remaining. Each of us had to periodically stop to "wipe" the bottom of our spike-clad shoes on a snow pile to remove clumps of mud that had collected.
Can you spot me?
So, this Russell Brand-looking young man was hiking solo, coming up behind us, and I wanted him in the shot to show perspective, so I quickly snapped this one as he rounded the corner.
A little ways up the trail, he caught up to our group as we had stopped to take more photos. We greeted him as he approached, and he kind of hesitated and eventually asked me if I had taken a photo with him in it. He chuckled and said he suspected I was looking for some perspective in the shot. I smiled and confirmed his suspicion. Then he asked if I would mind sending him the photo. I said sure thing. So, he gave me his email address and I sent it off to him. Nice kid. In fact, we ran into him on Day 3 in Bryce Canyon on the Fairyland Loop Trail hike, too.
The remainder of the hike entailed climbing through snow and the closer we got to the top, the steeper the grade. Again, we were all grateful to have worn our microspikes. They just made hiking the steep, slippery terrain easier (and probably safer).
In just under 3 hours, trudging through lots of mud and snow, and climbing over 1200 feet of gain, we made it back to the top at Bryce Point. My legs were happy to be done with this hike, for sure, and I was looking forward to having some lunch and relaxing the rest of the day.
Queen's Garden, Peek-a-Boo, Bryce Point